• Politics
  • Donald Trump

Exclusive: Two More Congressmen From Florida Plan to Endorse Trump in Blow to DeSantis

5 minute read

In another blow to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s not-yet-official presidential bid, two more Republican members of Congress from his own state are gearing to endorse Donald Trump for another term. Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Carlos Gimenez are each planning to announce their support for the former president this week, multiple sources familiar with the matter tell TIME.

Their pledges continue something of a downward spiral for DeSantis, who has been steadily losing ground in the endorsement battle for legislators from his own backyard. The development is even more noteworthy after his political team recently tried to stop the bleeding by asking Florida Republicans to refrain from endorsing Trump. DeSantis has not yet formally launched a campaign, but he has been laying the groundwork for a run. He’s widely expected to enter the race after the Florida legislature ends its session next month.

Bilirakis and Gimenez have also committed to be at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach on Thursday night, as the former President hosts members of the Florida delegation who have already endorsed him, including Reps. Matt Gaetz, Anna Paulina Luna, Cory Mills, and Greg Steube. It’s not clear yet whether Reps. Byron Donalds and John Rutherford, who have also endorsed Trump, will be at the gathering.

Neither Bilirakis nor Gimenez responded to requests for comment. Rep. Brian Mast, another Florida Republican, has also told associates he plans to formally back Trump in the coming days. And on Wednesday, Rep. Vern Buchanan officially threw his weight behind Trump.

All of their endorsements will bring Trump’s tally of members of Congress from Florida to ten, whereas DeSantis has just one, Rep. Laurel Lee, who announced her support for the governor on Tuesday. Before winning her House seat last year, Lee served as DeSantis’s first Secretary of State. The rest of Florida’s 22 Republicans in Congress have yet to take a side in the presidential race.

Last week, TIME reported that four House Republicans from Florida—Reps. Buchanan, Mast, Steube, and Kat Cammack—had told associates they were preparing to publicly endorse Trump. All but Cammack have since done so.

The addition of Bilirakis and Gimenez comes amid a rough few days for DeSantis’s presidential prospects. Over the weekend, one of his top donors said he was halting his plans to help finance the governor’s presidential bid over his proposals to ban LGBTQ-themed books and his signing into law a six-week abortion ban.

DeSantis also recently angered some Floridians by claiming in a New Hampshire speech that Florida didn’t have “state pride” before he became governor. That drew the attention of DeSantis’s predecessor as governor, Sen. Rick Scott. “I’ve always been proud to live in Florida and I’ve never met another Floridian who isn’t proud to live in the Sunshine State,” Scott told TIME on Monday. “We have great weather, low taxes, and pride in our state and our country and its history.”

Scott’s admonition came shortly after DeSantis made headlines for threatening to build a state prison next to Disney World, the latest escalation in the governor’s long-running feud with the company over its opposition to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which forbids teaching lessons on sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through the third grade. (The Florida Board of Education on Wednesday approved expanding the measure to apply to all Florida students up to the 12th grade.)

DeSantis suffered another humiliation on Tuesday, when he met with a group of Congressional lawmakers in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank. Within minutes after the event ended, one of the attendees, Rep. Lance Gooden of Texas, endorsed Trump. “I met with Governor DeSantis,” Gooden said in a statement. “And while he has done commendable work in Florida, there is no doubt in my mind that President Trump is the only leader who can save America from the leftist onslaught we are currently facing.”

Yet the rebuff from Florida lawmakers has been particularly striking. Steube, who endorsed Trump this week, told Politico Playbook that DeSantis had not contacted him once over the last five years, nor had he replied to Steube’s attempts to connect. That all changed last week when more members of the Florida delegation were rolling out their Trump endorsements and TIME reported on Steube’s plans to back the former president. DeSantis’s aide Ryan Tyson called him shortly after to get him to hold off.

While Bilirakis and Gimenez are not among the group of lawmakers the DeSantis team reportedly contacted in recent days, their plans to endorse Trump are another sign that DeSantis’s efforts to prevent his potential rival from running up the scoreboard are coming up short.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com